PHILADELPHIA — After reviewing docket data from the Philadelphia courts that revealed the continued use of cash bail during the COVID-19 pandemic, the ACLU of Pennsylvania sent a letter to the First Judicial District today, urging the immediate end to the use of cash bail during the ongoing public health crisis. This request is in line with the state Supreme Court emergency order for courts to mitigate this crisis.

Because the infrastructure of the courts in Philadelphia and across the commonwealth is in uncertain flux, with some court proceedings being suspended, it is unclear how long a person might spend in pretrial detention if they cannot afford cash bail. 

“Keeping people unnecessarily locked up during a pandemic heightens their risk of exposure and increases the chances of a full-blown outbreak in Pennsylvania jails and prisons,” said Reggie Shuford, executive director of the ACLU of Pennsylvania. “With so much uncertainty about when the criminal legal system will return to business as usual, keeping people in close quarters in indefinite pretrial detention is unacceptable.”   

The letter calls on the First Judicial District to immediately stop using cash bail and instead use other means, like text message reminders, to ensure that people show up for their day in court.

“Prisons, jails, and detention centers are some of the most dangerous places to be during a pandemic,” said Nyssa Taylor, criminal justice policy counsel for the ACLU of Pennsylvania.  “People who are incarcerated live in cramped quarters with no way to practice social distancing and often with no access to basic sanitary precautions such as using purell or handwashing. 

“The risk of transmission is astronomical, and it only grows worse as the Philly courts continue to use cash bail for detention.” 

A copy of the letter is available here